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Hike – Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes

    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes

    Photo: View from Aiguilles de Baulmes (sommet) to the west along the Swiss/French border.

    Underground into an extensive cave and up on a panoramic ridge to knock off three more of the Jura reds.

    Note: This Grotte aux Fées should not be confused with the one with paid entry near St-Maurice or with the free and more spacious version by Vallorbe.

    Key Information

    Route: La Côte-aux-Fées – Grotto-aux-Fées – Ste-Croix – Aiguilles de Baulmes – Baulmes

    Length: 21.3km, +930m, -1330m.

    Date: 2023-August-05.

    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes

    For more hikes in Switzerland see my list of hikes.


    Practical Information

    Season: Early spring to lake Autumn. Snow on the north face of the ridge might well stay longer.

    Arrival/Departure: Bus to ‘La Côte-aux-Fées, poste’ / train from Baulmes.

    Supplies: Shops and restaurants in Ste-Croix at the midpoint, otherwise a few restaurants scattered along the route like Chalet restaurant du Mont de Baulmes.

    Alternate routes/shortcuts: This can easily be broken up into two shorter hikes starting/ending in Ste-Croix which has direct trains to Yverdon-les-Bains.

    Exposure/Hazards: The red mountain path sections and the ridgeline along the Aiguilles de Baulmes are often uneven with rocks and roots. In wet conditions these can be very slippery.

    Other points:

    • This was very quiet. There is a car park at Aiguilles de Baulmes so it had a few other people about (never felt busy). Otherwise I was alone most of the time.

    Notes along the route

    It is always a pleasure to ride up from Neuchatel into the Val-de-Travers. Starting off looking over the castle and old town as the train leaves Neuchatel station, then the vineyards and lake, and finally up through the Areuse gorge. After that the ride up the gentle valley with wooded sides is less dramatic but still beautiful.

    Feels less like the end of the world as it did on a freezing foggy November morning when I started a hike from there up to Chasseron which was my only experience of this little corner of Switzerland to date.

    Starting off in the La Côte-aux-Fées it is close enough to France to have French destinations on the hiking post (the route is almost always just a few km from the French border the whole way). Despite having seemingly the most whimsical place name in Switzerland (literally ‘the hill of fairies’ in modern French) they have a sheep as their crest – it seems the name actually comes from ‘Coste eis Faes’ meaning ‘the hill of the lambs’.

    Leaving La Côte-aux-Fées the first part of the hike is through gentle landscape typical to this part of the Jura with a mix of forest, meadow, and farmhouses.

    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    La Côte-aux-Fées.
    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    Typical Jura landscape.

    There is a short dead end path that leads to the Grotto-aux-Fées which is the first red mountain path of the day. From the turn off to the lookout over the valley/gorge it is very easy. The drop down to the cave is short but steep and on slippery Jura limestone – there is a chain the whole way for support.

    I thought the Grotto-aux-Fées would just be a big room or two like it’s name twin by Vallorbe. Nope. Going by the map outside it is pretty extensive. Checking on Youtube afterwards it seems you can follow the chains in the cave through to an entrance on the other side (and then the same way back). I brought a headlamp and was ready to have a look around. After the entry room there are two crampt passages going off, both of which require crawling/squatting to get anywhere. I had lost the previous weekend to a pinched nerve in my back and didn’t fancy triggering that again so I just had a quick look and will try to return one day to go all the way through.

    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    Looking down the Vallon de Noirvaux from the lookout above the cave.
    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    Entrance to the caves and information plaque.

    After the caves the path goes into the forest and it is just a fairly dull gravel path until close to Ste-Croix

    The Col des Etroits is the first big ridge into Switzerland from the french border; so of course it is covered in tank traps and bunkers. I would have liked to have carried along the ridge to Mont des Cerfs, but that route is closed (and has been for some time) due to construction of a wind farm.

    Instead I dropped down into Ste-Croix itself and up the valley at the base of the Aiguilles de Baulmes ridge.The last time I passed through Ste-Croix it was in freezing thick fog with almost no visibility so it was nice to actually see what the town looked like. It isn’t anything special, but there are lots of fountains with drinking water.

    The Aiguilles de Baulmes ends only about 1km from the French border. A fact made very clear by the bloody great big bunker pointed across the valley next to the start of the final climb to the ridge.

    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    Tank traps on the Col des Etroits. It just wouldn’t be a Swiss hike near the border without them.
    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    Bunker pointed towards France at the base of the Aiguilles de Baulmes.

    The red mountain path up is a bit steep and rocky at times but nothing exceptional for the Jura – this part has the best unobstructed views to the north of the Jura rolling into France. At the top I was surprised by just how good the view was from the Aiguilles de Baulmes (sommet) were. It doesn’t really stand out from afar but it is a respectable (for the Jura) 1560m so has a commanding view along the chain, over the Mittelland and lakes, and towards the Alps.

    Heading east along the ridge towards Baulmes the views on each side come and go as the path goes in and out of forest or below the ridgeline. It is only marked as a yellow footpath but most of the way is on uneven rocky/rooty ground.

    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    View from Aiguilles de Baulmes (sommet) to the west along the Swiss/French border.
    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    Aiguilles de Baulmes (sommet) to the east with Lake Neuchatel.

    I followed the ridge all the way along ignoring the first signpost for Baulmes to then go down the 3rd red mountain path of the route. The first part of this really earned the rating. It is steep, slippery, and narrow.

    Baulmes is odd. It is quite a large and beautiful village, but it was also dead. There was no sense of life, even the numerous fountains were turned off.

    The ride down to the main train line at Yverdon-les-Bains is short at 20 minutes but pretty enough. The chunk of land between Yverdon and Lausanne is probably one of the most overlooked bits of the country but does have numerous beautiful little villages.

    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    Last view of the cliffs before starting down through them.
    Grotte aux Fées and Aiguilles de Baulmes
    The steep start of the mountain path section down.

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